The Seeker’s Guide to Bufo alvarius

The Seeker's Guide to Bufo alvarius

and 5-MeO-DMT

The Sonoran Desert Toad (Bufo alvarius) has a magical secret: the venom it secretes from its glands, normally toxic to animals, can be dried and smoked to produce an intense psychedelic experience.

Unusually for natural psychedelic substances, Bufo venom has no clear history of traditional shamanic use. Instead, it is popular in modern neo-shamanic rituals that take advantage of the short duration of its effects to provide people with a quick but intense mystical experience.

Bufo venom is not a harmless substance, and smoking it comes with a number of different risks. Irresponsible and negligent facilitation has already led to several deaths among psychedelic adventurers and seekers of personal healing.

This guide is intended for those who would like to experience Bufo in a safe and legal framework.
It should be used for harm reduction and education purposes only, and contains no advice about obtaining prohibited substances.

Introduction

Who This Guide Is For

The Seeker's Guide to Bufo alvarius was created for everyone who is interested in Bufo medicine. This could be anyone from the complete psychedelic novice to the experienced Bufo facilitator.

We aim to provide balanced, relevant and practical information for anyone looking to learn about Bufo. Considering the unique lack of shamanic tradition associated with Bufo, information about safe practices needs to come from modern sources, rather than from indigenous wisdom.

This guide contains information about how to use Bufo safely, and how to find a safe and responsible retreat. It also contains resources for preparing for an intense psychedelic experience, advice for facilitators, and information about integrating a Bufo ceremony into your everyday life.

How to Use this Guide

This guide is divided into two parts. 

  1. Bufo 101. This first section covers important background information about Bufo and its history, so that you, the seeker, have some cultural and scientific context about Bufo alvarius.

  2. How to do Bufo alvarius. The second section covers practical information about what to expect from a Bufo experience. You will find an overview of some of the safety concerns and risks related to Bufo, as well as strategies to reduce the potential for harm. You will also learn about how to find a safe Bufo retreat center or facilitator. 


We believe that, although Bufo alvarius is a powerful psychedelic medicine that may not be ideal for most psychedelic seekers, those who decide to take it should be fully informed about the methods that can minimize risk and maximize its healing potential.

We hope that this guide will empower you to make the best, and safest, decision about your own journey.

This guide was created as a labor of love, from the depths of our hearts to you.

With So Much Love,
Lorna Liana & the EntheoNation Team

Part 1:
Bufo 101

Bufo alvarius, also known as the Sonoran Desert Toad or Colorado River Toad, is a species of toad native to northwestern Mexico and some southern US states.

This toad stands out from others because of the venom it produces. Although normally toxic when ingested by humans, the dried venom can be smoked to produce an intense and short-lasting psychedelic experience.

Although there is no clear evidence of Bufo alvarius being used in traditional shamanism, the psychoactive components of the venom (mainly 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin) have been used in various shamanic practices with plants such as Anadenanthera peregrina (yopo) and Virola elongata.

Neo-shamanic practices involving the use of Bufo venom have increased in popularity over the last few decades, with many people interested in the short but highly mystical experience it can produce.

Unlike other similar natural psychedelics, Bufo venom appears to have some toxicity, and ceremonies can be fatal if not facilitated responsibly.

The History of Bufo alvarius

Unlike many other natural psychedelics, the venom of the Bufo alvarius toad appears not to have any traditional shamanic use – or, if it once did, those practices died out some time ago. Modern indigenous people in the areas where Bufo lives have no record of shamanic practices involving the toad.

Highly speculative anthropological evidence suggests that toad medicine might have been used at some point in Mesoamerica, due to the presence of toad iconography in temples and on artifacts, but this is by no means conclusive evidence of the use of toad venom as a religious sacrament. [1]

Anyone who claims that their way of working with Bufo is “ancient and sacred” is at the very least exaggerating. In contemporary usage, Bufo is commonly found in neo-shamanic ceremonial settings, that may include drumming, chanting, smudging and other rituals. Any “indigenous seeming” Bufo practices like this are examples of neo-shamanism that have been amalgamated from a variety of traditions, and are not rooted in specific knowledge from an unbroken ancestral lineage.

Ancient Bufo by Brad Collins

Artist credit: Brad Collins

Bufo alvarius venom was first chemically examined in 1965, and the paper that showed it contained the psychoactive substance 5-MeO-DMT was published shortly after. [2] It was in the mid-’80s when smoking toad venom became a fringe, underground phenomenon, after the first description of smoking Bufo alvarius venom was published in the form of an extraordinary pamphlet titled “Bufo alvarius: The Psychedelic Toad of the Sonoran Desert”. [3]

5-MeO-DMT is a chemical with a history of shamanic use in the form of some plant-based snuffs. Most often, plants that contain 5-MeO-DMT also contain other psychoactive components such as DMT and bufotenin. Ground and dried seeds of plants such as Anadenanthera peregrina (yopo) and Virola elongata are ground up into a snuff which is blown into the participant’s nostrils by a shaman, in ceremonies using specially-crafted pipes. The practice of using yopo snuff has been found in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. [4] These traditions date back thousands of years; bufotenin, a substance often found alongside 5-MeO-DMT in many plants, has been found in the remains of a shamanic pouch in the Andes mountains, dated at 1,000 years old. [5]

5-MeO-DMT is not a prohibited substance in most countries, as it was not included in the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances in 1971. However, both the US and the UK have classified 5-MeO-DMT as a Class A/Schedule I substance. As such, ingesting Bufo venom may be considered illegal in these countries.

Bufotenin, another psychotropic substance in Bufo alvarius venom, is also not regulated in most places – however again, both the US and UK have it listed as a Class A/Schedule I substance.

The Pharmacology of Bufo alvarius

Bufo alvarius venom contains a number of toxic chemicals, including bufotoxin, that can kill small animals and do serious damage to humans. Thankfully, drying and smoking the venom destroys these toxins.

What is left is mainly 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin, two chemicals with similarities to DMT. Both bufotenin [6] and 5-MeO-DMT [7] are powerful psychedelics; several times as potent as DMT, requiring much smaller doses to have the same effect.

Although very little research has been done on bufotenin, we know more about 5-MeO-DMT. Similarly to DMT and other classic psychedelics, 5-MeO-DMT activates serotonin receptors; and mainly the 5-HT2A receptor. [8] The boost in serotonin that 5-MeO-DMT causes is thought to be linked to the psychedelic effects.

A low dose of 5-MeO-DMT would be around 1-3mg when inhaled. Since most Bufo venom contains around 15% 5-MeO-DMT by dry weight, [3] this would involve vaporizing around 6-10mg of dried venom as a starter dose.

Smoking the venom produces an intense experience, often considered more intense than DMT due to the combination of 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin. It only takes a few seconds for the effects to kick in, and they typically last about 15 minutes, usually subsiding after around 40 minutes. Some say the psychedelic “afterglow” can be felt for as long as days or weeks following the session.

Smoking Bufo can be physiologically risky. It can cause muscle tremors, a reduction in breathing rate, and nausea/vomiting. The experience can be very intense, especially for people with heart conditions or who are naive to psychedelics. When additional medications or substances are brought into the equation, effects can be fatal. Do not combine Bufo venom, or 5-MeO-DMT, with MAOIs (including ayahuasca). There are several reports of deaths resulting from these combinations. [9]

Healing with Bufo alvarius

The practice of inhaling Bufo alvarius venom has become increasingly popular in a variety of ceremonial settings in recent years, as neo-shamanic Bufo facilitators have begun offering to administer the medicine in ceremonies aimed at addressing spiritual or physical issues. However, compared to other psychedelics, research into 5-MeO-DMT is sparse, and there is not yet a consensus on its therapeutic potential.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that 5-MeO-DMT can be used to treat opioid dependence or other addictions. Some ibogaine treatment centers use 5-MeO-DMT in conjunction with iboga to help participants have a mystical experience that can boost the anti-addictive effects of iboga. One study of proteins in artificial human organs found that 5-MeO-DMT reduced the levels of a receptor involved in addiction (mGluR5), suggesting that it could have its own anti-addictive properties, [10] and another survey of 5-MeO-DMT users showed that 66% of people with alcoholism found improvements after taking the substance. [11]

One survey of 350 people who had been participants in Bufo sessions showed that people who had been suffering from depression or anxiety were very likely to experience improvements in their conditions after the session. 80% of people with depression said that their symptoms were improved, and 79% of people with anxiety reported improvements. [12]

The Bufo experience comes with many risks, and should not be seen as a “magic pill” treatment of your issues. As with any intense psychedelic experience, there is a risk of psychological damage if adequate preparation and integration is not carried out. There are potentially deadly substance interactions, and some medical conditions that make Bufo use unadvisable. Poor facilitation of your ceremony can be fatal, with several deaths linked to facilitators engaging in unethical practices, or neglecting their participants. Read more in our section on Risks.

Still curious? Our Beginner’s Guide to Healing with Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT has more in-depth information.

The Healing Power of the Mystical Experience

Bufo experiences are primarily sought out for personal development reasons. Seekers hope that the powerful mystical experience of complete ego dissolution and “One with the Universe” experience that it elicits will provide freedom and a new perspective that will allow the individual to break free of limiting patterns and the grip of old traumas.

Research has shown that the magnitude of the spiritual experience that accompanies some psychedelic trips is directly related to the healing benefits. [13][14] 5-MeO-DMT has been shown to effectively invoke a mystical experience in around 75% of people who take it, and the intensity of the experience is comparable to a high-dose magic mushroom trip. [15]

It’s hard to pin down exactly what a mystical experience is, as one of its characteristics is the difficulty in describing it. Mystical experiences usually involve a sense of realization or awakening, an encounter with some kind of universal truth or entity, and a sense of interconnectedness or timelessness. People often report mystical experiences giving them a fresh perspective on life, helping to give them new purpose or motivation to make positive changes.

You can start to understand why the mystical experience might be linked to healing after reading some 5-MeO-DMT experiences:

“I found myself floating in what I can only describe as an eternal, infinite void. In this ‘dimension’, there was no time, and no space. I forgot their meanings. I forgot my human senses, all of them. This perception was so direct and total, that it was beyond any sense; it was not visual, not tactile, not soniferous... It was everything at once and more. Unified, undefined, compressed. I forgot the life I had before. I forgot who or what I used to be. One thing only was certain: I was. I was this omnipotent flow of purity. When this realization popped out, it was so deep and clear, that I could only think ‘This is absolutely incredible,’ although it was a feeling rather than a thought. An obvious and undeniable feeling, a beam of unprocessed truth. Like opening my eyes to light for the first time. And discovering existence as what it truly is. I remained in this state for what felt like an eternity. Immersed in this divine light. One with it. The serenity I felt was of cosmic proportions. It was intense, even more so than the destructive energy of before, but this time, it was positive and healing. It felt like home. Home of the soul. The one and only place I ever wanted to end up within. While deeply mystical and mysterious, there was nothing to understand, nothing to analyze, nothing to conceptualize... It was the clearest, and the most obvious, and the most unquestionable feeling ever.”

- account from actualized.org [16]

 [2]“From beyond the center of my being issued forth two distinct and inseparable projections. With the fury and potency of all of the pain and all of the ecstasy of creation, came a scream that shook the very foundations of matter itself. From beyond the portals of time and space issued an orgasm that was the birth of stars, galaxies and Universes. With it came an effluent, projectile emission that was the healing, furious waters of Ma Ganga, pouring from the center of heaven’s gate to wash away all of the sins of the ancestors of humanity, to purge all of the holiest places and to asperge every sacred rite performed throughout time. And in this I was born into Being. Born into the birthright of every child, into pure bliss riding the waves of Divine Consciousness, the joy of innocence that cannot be lost because it is inherently what we ARE, reclaiming the lila of the Goddess for every misplaced child of creation, transported through laughter, through tears and through songs sung in words that have been buried long ago in the sands of time, obliterated in the dust of stars. She welcomed me into Her Manifest Fullness. All that was, was the knowing: Shivaa’Ham – Divine, Sacred Feminine, I Am That..”

- account from Erowid [17]

“[There] was an immediate complete dissolution of any identity and a merging into the Oneness, timeless, pure awareness and light energy of the Universe. An enlightenment experience. Complete clarity. I also had the experience of energetically dumping everything that I had been holding onto from the past up to that point in my life. There was a knowing that all of my previous ‘suffering’ was designed perfectly and got me to this point in time where I could have such a direct experience of my (our) true nature.”

- account from Erowid [18]

Sustaining the Bufo alvarius population

The increase in the popularity of Bufo ceremonies has created corresponding pressure on toad populations, and raised the question of long-term sustainability.

Although Bufo alvarius is not an endangered species, its numbers are declining, [19] probably due to the increase in human interest. Since Bufo alvarius spends most of its time underground, hunters search for the toad during its short mating season.

Although the milking of the venom itself does not harm the toads, if done responsibly, the toads’ habitats are being encroached upon by fervent venom hunters, and this will undeniably have an effect on this species. Additionally, some black market vendors are selling the toads in order to establish farms, taking the largest and most fertile toads out of their native ecosystems. [19]

Synthetic 5-MeO-DMT is a sustainable alternative to milking Bufo alvarius toads, and appears to have very similar psychedelic effects to smoking Bufo venom. Dozens of plants are a natural source of 5-MeO-DMT, and present a more sustainable option than the milking of toads.

If you attend a Bufo retreat, make sure to ask where the venom was sourced, and if it was done responsibly and sustainably. Ideally, the venom would have been obtained from non-farmed toads, who were milked harmlessly, and returned to their native habitat.

For details on conservation efforts that you can donate to, see our Resources section.

Part 2:
Practical

Whatever reason you’ve chosen to explore bufo, it’s important to do so mindfully, safely, and with respect.

The ethics of smoking bufo venom are there for you to consider—if you are concerned about the well-being of the toads which provide your medicine, you should look for bufo ceremonies for which the venom was sourced with respect and care.

Additionally, as 5-MeO-DMT is not the safest substance, you must ensure that the circle or ceremony you join is facilitated by someone with sufficient knowledge and experience. 

Here are our guidelines for preparing yourself for a meaningful and safe bufo experience.

Choosing the Ideal Bufo alvarius Retreat

The first thing you must do is decide where and how you’d like to experience Bufo medicine. Although some people choose to take Bufo on their own, without a facilitator or sitter, we don’t recommend this path. The Bufo experience is unparalleled in its intensity, and it’s always best to at least have a sober sitter – and preferably an experienced facilitator.

There are many Bufo alvarius retreats that offer the opportunity to take Bufo in a guided, ceremonial setting. These vary in the amount of luxury they provide, and the degree of mysticism that is used in the ceremony. Although retreats can be ideal for beginners, you should consider whether the retreat offers what you’re looking for:

  • Location. Is the retreat easy to get to? Is it a plane journey away, or just a train ride? These are all things to consider, and will mostly depend on personal preference.

  • Legality. Is Bufo legal in the host country? Taking Bufo somewhere it is legal might help you feel safer and allow you to have a more comfortable experience. Your retreat should know the legal status of Bufo and 5-MeO-DMT in their host country.

  • Mysticism. Some retreats may use mystical or spiritual concepts more than others within the ceremony. If you’d like a more pragmatic or minimalist ceremony, make sure you know what to expect from the setup.

  • The Ceremonial Space. You may prefer the idea of tripping outside; or maybe a comfy yoga studio would be more your kind of thing. Many Bufo retreats have their participants outside, and often will use natural water sources to evoke sensations of rebirth.

  • The Practitioners. Would you rather have psychologists, therapists, and medical professionals running your retreat? Or are you happy with a neo-shamanic practitioner? Professionals aren’t necessarily required for an effective ceremony, but it’s good to consider the qualifications and experience of your facilitators.
  • Group Activities. Some retreats require the group to move or chant together, or even undertake group tasks, during the experience. If you’d rather trip without group interactions, make sure to check what the retreat policy is.

  • Restrictions. Some retreats will require you to follow a diet, or practice meditation, before the ceremony. If this isn’t for you, check to make sure what the retreat policy is beforehand. Some retreats require you to pass a medical screening to check for a family history of mental health problems, or heart conditions.

  • Amanities. Are there lodgings at the retreat? Do they provide food? Are there luxuries such as workshops or massages on offer? Consider what level of comfort you will require to make the most of the experience.

  • Cost. This will very much be linked to the level of luxury of the retreat. Consider what is within your means, but remember that expert facilitators are not cheap!

  • Purpose. Why are you attending a retreat? If it’s for therapeutic purposes for a serious condition, consider the safety of the retreat. Are there trained therapists on hand? Is there a medic at the retreat? Will this retreat center offer you the best chance of finding what you’re looking for?

Once you have settled on the retreat that looks right for you, it’s important to ensure the trustworthiness and safety-consciousness of the retreat and its facilitators.

The effects of Bufo can be extremely overpowering, and have been fatal in the past when combined with poor facilitation or inadequate medical supervision. There have been cases of abusive facilitators (such as Octavio Rettig and Gerry Sandoval) directly or indirectly causing deaths and injuries at their retreats.

You should thoroughly research your chosen retreat to make sure they have a good record, and take the safety of their participants seriously:

  • Google the name of the retreat and/or facilitators, in combination with keywords like “fraud,” “scam,” “deaths” or “scandal.” Make sure you look through a few pages, as savvy marketers know how to bury negative search results.

  • Join online forums or Facebook groups and search for mentions of the retreat, with the same negative keywords.
  • Find past participants and ask them what their experience was like. Make sure to ask if they had any concerns, or if there was anything that made them uncomfortable.

  • Check out review sites that rate Bufo retreat centers– see our Resources section.

Remember that during a Bufo ceremony, a good facilitator should be a purely supportive and passive presence, and should not be interacting with you in any way other than to keep you out of danger. If a facilitator practices things like rapé (tobacco snuff), or any kind of intrusive techniques, you should think twice, and only go ahead if you are absolutely sure that the practice is safe.

Facilitators who give their participants electric shocks, rapé, or pour water into their lungs during the experience, should be avoided. You might think that would go without saying, but some facilitators (including Octavio Rettig) have been responsible for several deaths due to these dangerous methods.

Also keep in mind that a Bufo facilitator should be totally focussed on you during the entire experience. Avoid ceremonies or retreats where one facilitator has their attention split between multiple participants at once. It can only take a moment for a Bufo experience to turn deadly, so choose a facilitator who you know won’t take any risks.

Taking Bufo alvarius Outside a Retreat

Retreats aren’t for everyone, and if you’re experienced with psychedelics you might feel you are up to the task of preparing your own trip space.

We recommend always having a sitter with you, and especially so with a potentially dangerous entheogen like Bufo venom.

Ideally, your sitter will be an experienced Bufo facilitator, who knows exactly how to guide trippers through intense and challenging experiences, and keep them safe during the intense peak. However at the very least your sitter should be sober, and should follow these guidelines:

  • Know the space. Be aware of where the amenities are, and where to go for food, water, and outside assistance. Keep everything comfortable, and make sure the tripper is safe.

  • Know the medicine. Make sure you are aware of the dose of Bufo they are taking, how long it will last, and what sort of effects you can expect.

  • Know how to keep the tripper safe. Bufo can have intense effects, and trippers often lose control of their body. Prepare the environment so that you will be able to control any wild movements, and calm the tripper if they are in distress.

  • Know the tripper. Understand why they’re taking Bufo, and what they might need from you during the trip. Lay out any specific boundaries either of you might have regarding physical contact.

  • Be a gentle presence. Unless there is a specific need for it, or you have considerable experience, don’t try to guide the tripper in any particular direction. Just be a silent, supportive presence, and simply offer gentle reassurance whenever it is needed. Your main role is to just be there, and keep the tripper safe – not to be a therapist.


Some basic tips for setting up an at-home Bufo experience are:

  • Prepare the space. Make sure you’ll be comfortable, and keep any sharp or dangerous objects out of the space. Make sure no one will interrupt you. If you are tripping outside, make sure it is a familiar place that has no hazards (i.e. deep water, cliffs).

  • Follow the usual preparations as if you were attending a retreat. See the section below and prepare yourself to have a transformational experience.

Preparing for Bufo alvarius

Whether you’re attending a retreat, or tripping in your own home, it’s important to do some preparation for the experience.

Many retreats will have a set plan for your preparation, including a diet, meditation practices, or group sharing circles and workshops.

If your retreat doesn’t have a preparation routine, or you’re tripping at home, we recommend familiarizing yourself with these common practices that could help maximize the effects of the Bufo alvarius experience.

Spiritual Practices to Use with Bufo alvarius

Dieting and abstinence are often used in conjunction with spiritual practices in order to amplify the benefits you may receive from the experience. Avoiding TV, social media, unhealthy foods and sexual activity could help you get the most out of your trip, but are by no means necessary for everyone.

Ideally, you should spend the days preceding your ceremony engaged in activities like yoga, meditation, mindfulness practice, prayer, journaling, and solitary walks in the woods. Begin spiritually communing with Nature before your date-night with her, when you will fling open the doors to direct communication with the toad spirit.

Being in a mindful place will help you immeasurably in your Bufo experience. Even if you’re not comfortable with a spiritual approach to preparation, reflect on whatever is important to you in preparing for a ceremony.

Bufo Mandala

Artist credit: Phrase (Honghikuri)

Setting Intention with Bufo alvarius

Setting intention is a crucial part of any psychedelic journey, and spiritual practices can help you to do this. Developing a clear goal for what aspects of yourself or the world you are hoping to visit during your experience will increase the likelihood of taking something positive from it.

Be sure not to confuse “intentions” with “expectations.” You may spend days or weeks setting a very clear intention, only for Bufo to decide it won’t be answering that question for you this time. Consider your intentions like a foundation – some firm ground to come back to if you get lost. But don’t expect for those intentions to be a guide that Bufo will take for granted. Be prepared to lose control and be taken in unexpected directions.

The Risks of Bufo alvarius

Bufo venom is not a risk-free entheogen. Not only are there some pharmacological interactions to be aware of, but your general health should be good so you can withstand the profound experience, and you should have highly safety-minded facilitators.

Most deaths associated with Bufo use involve poor or negligent facilitation. Due to the intense nature of the experience, participants often lose their ability to move or breathe properly. Deaths have resulted from facilitators not paying adequate attention to participants who were in distress, and unable to breathe; and other deaths have been due to irresponsible practices such as forcing water into participants’ lungs, or using electric shocks. See our Resources section for a link to an open letter denouncing these practices.

To minimize these risks, make sure you are in good health before your experience, and only trip with facilitators who you have researched and who you trust to take your safety as a priority.

There are some drug interactions that could be dangerous when using Bufo alvarius venom or 5-MeO-DMT:

  • Lithium. This is sometimes given as a mediator in combination with some forms of medication. Numerous reports suggest that lithium can cause fatal seizures and heart attacks when mixed with psychedelics like 5-MeO-DMT. [20] Do not take Bufo or 5-MeO-DMT if you are taking lithium.

  • Tramadol. This is a synthetic opioid that affects the serotonin system and lowers the threshold for seizures. There appears to be a real risk of serotonin syndrome if you combine Tramadol with 5-MeO-DMT, [21] which can be fatal. Tramadol is also sold as Ultram.

  • SSRI medications. Currently there is no evidence that this combination is risky, although there is a theoretical chance of Serotonin Syndrome if high doses are combined. Don’t risk taking Bufo or 5-MeO-DMT with high doses of SSRI medications. Common SSRIs include Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft.

  • MAOI medications. There have been several cases of deaths from the combination of 5-MeO-DMT with MAOIs. [9] Avoid being on any MAOI medication if you plan to take Bufo or 5-MeO-DMT. Also avoid any MAOI-influencing psychedelics, such as ayahuasca, in the week before and after a Bufo experience. Common MAOIs include Emsam, Marplan, Nardil, and Parnate.

  • Heart or blood pressure medications. Bufo can drastically affect your heart rate, and breathing. If you are on heart or blood pressure medications, consider getting a medical professional’s opinion before taking Bufo or 5-MeO-DMT.


As well as the physical risks, it’s important to acknowledge that there are psychological risks for any psychedelic experience. Having your perceptions and thoughts radically altered by an external force can be extremely intense. It is common for people to experience acute fear and distress during a 5-MeO-DMT or Bufo experience. Perhaps more than other psychedelics, Bufo can be traumatic as well as healing, and some amount of preparation and awareness of the risks is required for a beneficial Bufo alvarius experience.

However, in the presence of a knowledgeable facilitator and with a secure support system, you are unlikely to experience long-term psychological difficulties. If you’ve had a distressing experience, practicing good integration techniques with trained facilitators will help you to avoid enduring long-term psychological harm from the trip, and will likely help you see the journey in a positive light. Read more about integration in
our Resources section.

The Bufo alvarius Experience

Bufo alvarius venom is dried and smoked, usually through a pipe. A good starter dose is around 6-10mg of venom, but your facilitator may judge your dose depending on your preference and experience.

The effects will begin only a few seconds after smoking, and the most intense of these will last for around 10-15 minutes. The effects will subside after around 40 minutes, leaving you with an afterglow that some say can last as long as several days following the experience.

Smoking the venom produces an intense experience, often considered more intense than DMT due to the combination of 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin. It involves an enormous expansion of bodily awareness, and an almost immediate transportation to other realms and realities. You may lose track of your identity, in a process sometimes called “ego loss,” and find yourself a disembodied component of some greater cosmic system, eventually being pieced back together into human form.

Trippers describe intense physical feelings, often of tactile enhancement and an almost erotic sensual quality. Visual effects are often reported to be underwhelming compared to other psychedelics such as DMT. Concepts such as time, the continuity of objects, and duality can quickly dissolve, leaving the tripper floating in some form of cosmic apotheosis.

Bufo trip

Artist credit: Aurumescens

The comedown is also relatively quick, with a return to earth and human form happening within a few minutes after the peak of the experience. From here, the tripper might feel a gradual subsiding of the experience lasting for some time. Due to the profound and intense nature of the trip, Bufo participants can find themselves struggling to grasp the meaning of the experience for days, weeks, or months following the ceremony. In this case, integration practices are especially recommended.

Letting Go with Bufo alvarius

It’s possible to encounter shocking, unpleasant, or disturbing sensations and thoughts during a Bufo experience. That is natural: most of us are not accustomed to coming into such close contact with profound spirit medicines, and it is unusual for people to have a purely comfortable experience with absolutely no challenges.

The key to not letting the intense or negative parts of the experience overwhelm you is letting go. Being able to release control and trust that you will be looked after.

This isn’t to say that you should be able to conquer your fear of the situation. Fear is a natural response to intense experiences and, in the words of Terence McKenna: 

“[The fear] marks the experience as existentially authentic. [...] A touch of terror gives the stamp of validity to the experience because it means, ‘This is real.’ We are in the balance. We read the literature, we know the maximum doses, and so on. But nevertheless, so great is one’s faith in the mind that when one is out in it one comes to feel that the rules of pharmacology do not really apply and that control of existence on that plane is really a matter of focus of will and good luck.”


- Terence McKenna [22]

So it is expected for you to feel fear when you are thrown out of your normal framework of understanding, because suddenly all that solid ground under your feet becomes a vast drop to somewhere completely unknown.

Being able to accept this new and scary situation is important. Rather than flailing around and scrambling for some essence of solidity in the void beneath you, remember that this is a natural part of the psychedelic experience, and what will help you is to let go. Accept the fear, accept this scary new reality, and let it happen to you.

Remember that you are being looked after, you are safe; and embrace the pains and joys of the experience. Many people recommend giving up your sense of self to Bufo, and remembering that it knows best. Take the lessons it gives you with humility and openness.

Integration with Bufo alvarius

The Bufo experience can be so novel, and so profound, that it is absolutely necessary to make an effort to integrate it effectively into your life. This is a process that may take days, weeks, or years, and begins immediately following your trip.

Some facilitators will make sure to speak to you after the ceremony, to talk you through your experience and help you interpret parts that you are struggling with. Most good retreats will allow space for a sharing circle after the main ceremony, allowing you to hear other people’s experiences and verbalize your own.

In the days and weeks following the experience, it’s recommended to continue any spiritual practices you had been cultivating beforehand, and observe how they may feel different. Revisit the experience through these practices, and think about which parts of your Bufo journey you want to bring into your life, and how.

Try your hand at expressing yourself through art or music, if words don’t seem to be enough. If the retreat provides it, make sure to continue a regular correspondence with your facilitator or guide. If you are particularly struggling with some aspects of the experience, consider seeing a specialized integration therapist; they are an emerging class of counselors specializing in helping people process psychedelic experiences and they can be found all over the world. Have a look at our Resources section for more details.

Read our in-depth Psychedelic Integration Guide for Bufo & 5-MeO-DMT for more details.

Legality

As far as the Bufo toads go, harvesting them is possible and legal with a few restrictions. In New Mexico, only state residents may collect them without a license. In Arizona, both residents and non-residents may harvest a maximum of 10 Bufo toads with a valid fishing license. In California, where their numbers are much lower, it’s a misdemeanor to collect toads and possession is against the law. The Bufo toad is a threatened species and we do not support their capture.

As for 5-MeO-DMT, Canada and Mexico have the substance unregulated, but it's illegal in most other Western countries. [23]
Extracting the venom from the toad for use in psychedelic purposes in any country where 5-MeO-DMT is a scheduled substance is illegal.

What Next?

For many people, the time just after their first Bufo experience feels like a new beginning. The world may feel refreshed, or you may feel as if some of your demons or troubles have been exposed and cleansed. You may have been given a new purpose in life; or perhaps just reminded of the one you’ve always had.

In many ways, Bufo can put you at the start of a long road. There will always be so much more to learn, so many more ways to change, and so much more healing to do.

FAQ


How is Bufo administered?

Once the toad venom is collected, it is dried and then smoked, normally from a glass pipe.


Where are Bufo toads found?

These toads are endemic to the Colorado River area in the Sonoran Desert, southern Arizona, small areas of California and New Mexico, and they can be found throughout the Mexican part of the Sonoran Desert.


Are Bufo toads poisonous to humans?

Yes. Their venom can irritate the skin or burn the eyes, but it can also have an impact on the heart if it gets into the bloodstream.


Where can I find a Bufo ceremony?

Bufo ceremonies can be found by networking on bufo communities online or through retreat and ceremony search portals. You can find links to these in our Resources section. We strongly advise against participating in illegal circles and ones with inexperienced and unethical facilitators. Do your vetting before trusting someone with your life.


How do Bufo and kambo compare?

Although they are both venoms harvested from amphibians, unlike Bufo, kambo is not psychedelic and is very mildly, if at all, psychoactive. The main effects of kambo are purgative. The venoms are also administered in different ways—Bufo is smoked and kambo is applied to small holes burned into the receivers skin.


Where can I buy Bufo online?

While Bufo toads can sometimes be found for sale online, we do not condone trade of live animals. As for 5-MeO-DMT, it's available to purchase from vendors in Canada, Mexico, and other countries where the substance isn’t controlled. If you don’t live in one of these countries, it’s illegal to have 5-MeO-DMT shipped into a country where it's regulated.


Is Bufo addictive?

No. It's actually used to battle substance addiction.


Does Bufo cause tolerance?

Bufo causes an immediate tolerance, which goes away after a few hours.


How to identify a Bufo toad?

Bufo alvarius is a large toad with grey, olive green, dark brown or reddish brown skin. It has smooth skin with interspersed warts of varying colors depending on its skin color. The head features a pointed snout with a bony ridge between the eyes and the nose. Behind the eyes on each side, large parotoid glands, which produce the toxin, are a prominent identifying feature.


Are Bufo toads poisonous to dogs / cats?

Yes. Numerous reports exist on pets being poisoned after linking a Bufo toad. These incidents can be lethal.


When are Bufo toads active?

Bufo toads are nocturnal animals. They spend most of the day inside their burrows. As the heat of the day drops, they come out to find food.


How do Bufo and ayahuasca compare?

The experiences are very distinct. Both are highly psychedelic, but smoking Bufo venom creates an almost instantaneous, intense, and short trip which sometimes causes immense confusion and loss of control of bodily movements. Unlike Bufo , the onset of ayahuasca is gradual, the journey takes much longer, it can be much more visual, and usually leaves the drinkers mostly immobile throughout the trip.


Where is 5-MeO-DMT legal?

It appears that 5-MeO-DMT use is legal in Mexico. It's also not regulated in Canada.


Can Bufo be detected in a drug test?

5-MeO-DMT is not a substance any standard or extended drug tests screen for.


Can you overdose on Bufo?

It's possible to overdose on Bufo venom, but it's much more dangerous if ingested before it had been dried. Overdose on inhaling Bufo manifests in breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness, and requires immediate medical attention.

References

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  2. Erspamer VT, Vitali MR & Jose MC (1967). 5-Methoxy- and 5-Hydroxyindoles in the Skin of Bufo alvarius. Biochemical Pharmacology 16, p.1149-1164.

  3. Most, A (1984) Bufo alvarius: The Psychedelic Toad of the Sonoran Desert. Venom Press, Denton, TX.
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  5. Miller MJ, Albarracin-Jordan J, Moore C & Capriles JM (2019). Chemical evidence for the use of multiple psychotropic plants in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle from South America. PNAS 116(23), p11207-11212.

  6. Ott, J (2001a). Pharmanopo-Psychonautics: Human Intranasal, Sublingual, Intrarectal, Pulmonary and Oral Pharmacology of Bufotenine. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 33(3), p.273-281.

  7. Ott, J (2001b). Pharmepena-Psychonautics: Human Intranasal Sublingual and Oral Pharmacology of 5-Methoxy-N,N-Dimethyl-Tryptamine. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 33(4), p.403-407.

  8. Shen HW, Jiang XL, Winter JC & Yu AM (2010). Psychedelic 5-MeO-DMT: Metabolism, pharmacokinetics, drug interactions, and pharmacological actions. Curr Drug Metab 11(8), p.659-666.

  9. Sklerov J, Levine B, Moore KA, King T & Fowler D (2005). A fatal intoxication following the ingestion of 5-MeO-DMT in an ayahuasca preparation. Journal of Analytical Toxicity 29(8), p.838-841.

  10. Dakic V, Minardi Nascimento J, Costa Sartore R, Maciel RM, de Araujo DB, Riberiro S, Martins-de-Souza D & Rehen SK (2017). Short term changes in the proteome of human cerebral organoids induced by 5-MeO-DMT. Sci Rep 7(1).

  11. Davis AK, Barsuglia JP, Lancelotta R, Grant RM & Renn E (2018). The epidemiology of 5-MeO-DMT use: Benefits, consequences, patterns of use, subjective effects, and reasons for consumption. J Psychopharmacol 32(7), p.779-792.

  12. Davis AK, So S, Lancelotta R, Barsuglia JP & Griffiths RR (2019). 5-MeO-DMT used in a naturalistic group setting is associated with unintended improvements in depression and anxiety. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 45(2), p.161-169.
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Additional Artist Credits

  • Title background image: Yelgato Hernández
  • Part 1 background image: Michael Garfield
  • Part 2 background image: Mismísimo Vic
  • Part 2 featured image: Chris Dyer
  • Part 3 background image: Amanda Sage